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15 years of negotiations not enough for UN international treaty to preserve Earth’s oceans biodiversity

It is a scientific fact that human life depends on oceans and their biodiversity. In the last decades an incredible number of species in the sea have reduced in number so much that they are now at risk of extinction. A study published in Science found that under business-as-usual global temperature increases, marine systems are likely to experience mass extinctions on par with past great extinctions. Protecting the biodiversity that has been created in the seas in the last 50 million years is now a critical and urgent global matter. Yet, a fifth round of negotiations for a UN ocean treaty to protect and manage the high seas failed to reach an agreement on Friday in New York. The negotiations focused on four key areas: (1) Establishing marine protected areas for more than 30% of the earth’s surface; (2) Improving environmental impact assessments; (3) Providing finance and capacity building to developing countries; (4) Sharing of marine genetic resources - biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food. Laura Meller, who leads Greenpeace’s ocean protection campaign, accused rich countries such as the United States of being too slow to compromise. “Russia has also been a key blocker in negotiations, refusing to engage in the treaty process itself, or attempting to compromise with the European Union and many other states on a wide range of issues,” Meller said. The talks will resume next year unless a special emergency session is called before the end of 2022. One of the most sensitive issues revolves around the sharing of possible profits gained from developing genetic resources in international waters, where pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic companies hope to find miracle drugs, products or cures. Such costly research at sea is largely the prerogative of rich nations, but developing countries do not want to be left out of potential windfall profits drawn from marine resources that belong to no one. Similar issues of equity between the Global North and South arise in other international negotiations, such as on climate change, where developing nations feel outsized harms from global warming and try in vain to get wealthier nations to help pay to offset those impacts. Economic differences between nations are hindering developments that are more and more urgent for our species’ future survival.